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No No No

The Top 30 Records of 2015

Music ListTransverso MediaComment
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3. Beach House - Thank Your Lucky Stars

Thank Your Lucky Stars acts as both an extension of and pivot point for Beach House’s career as a whole. Many may want the band to actively change in a progressive way, but the band chooses to continually broaden their sound in the most familiar and microscopic ways possible instead. Perhaps one of the best integration of all five preceding albums, you hear the metronome, drums are crisper, individual instruments are audible, and Victoria Legrand’s lyrics are unexpectedly discernible at certain points. It's what works for them, and its afforded Beach House the ability to carve out a dream-pop legacy (and avoid becoming a caricature) on their own terms.


2. Majical Cloudz - Are You Alone?

Are You Alone? takes off where the Montreal duo’s preceding Impersonator left off; a paradox of bare-bones, minimalist soundscapes ebbing with lush depth that are somehow simultaneously tranquilizing and uplifting. Welsh’s immaculately vulnerable monologues and unflinching vocals are gently bold, and they drive their synth lullabies forward with severe care. It's Welsh at his most overbearing, and yet his tight grip is irresistible. Calculatedly organic, passionately controlled, it’s a journal reading in a dream.



1. Tame Impala - Currents

Currents is the most adventurous, interesting, and well-produced collection of songs Kevin Parker has created thus far, sitting atop Tame Impala's discography as the most mature and painstakingly crafted iteration in their twisted psych-pop world. From the lush synth tracks that bubble through the mix to his effortless, washed out vocals, every sound is rendered with the utmost care. Currents proves Parker is unable to stick with a certain sound, forever looking for new ways to evolve his ideas and push his project beyond what was expected when Innerspeaker first hit the shelves.


Beirut's 'No No No' Not Light as a Feather, But An Easy Stroll

Music ReviewWilfred H. McSnuffComment

Close and nearby, as if you could reach out and touch it, Beirut's latest release No No No is a tangible indie-pop meditation that's gone before you know it. Though not particularly groundbreaking, the surprisingly clean and square record at hand is an accessible evolutionary companion to its 2011 predecessor, The Rip Tide

Both records have less of the melancholic desperation inherent in some of the Balkan-inspired baroque pop of their earlier years and stay at a moderate easy-listening tempo, with "August Holland" conjuring the most '60's pop the project has ever ventured. And yet, all that is Beirut remains, just with some of the edges rounded off.

Instrumentally a straight shooter, most of the album is wrapped around unaffected Rhodes and piano at its core, and at times it feels as if Beiruit is imitating itself but with less ambition in the production.  Other than an aptly timed chewy cycle of piano / Rhodes on "Perth" (with a Mellotron fade out to boot) this is the lone track where keyboards layer and diversify, unusual for a band traditionally lacking guitar. 

At a restive pace of three minutes a song, the record is a safe haven for a habit of four cord repetitions. And as always, a savior from the risk of monotony, Zach Condon's dulcet tones somehow hold you. The first two tracks are an assertive announcement of indie-alt-pop intent for all brand of familiar strangers to the band, either because you don't know them or because it's been awhile. The opening tribal membranophone of "Gibraltar" demands immediate movement (with a sneaky snare drum on the inside) that couples quickly with a bare bones piano block chording its way through your friendly neighborhood major scale; soon a sizzling shaker grants a sense of spontaneity, strolling like a crisp bite Apple commercial on a clear blue day in urban landscape of somewhere. Glowing vibrato in the vocals aid and abet, before all quickly immerses into a constant cycle of the same chords, accentuated with our ever present piano hopping on the offbeat, alongside harsh claps of what are certainly not hands, but are asking to be. Once the shivering tambourine  joins and the bass grounds circuit, the design of repetition works. The bass trades only briefly with a humming sine wave synth that keeps us on our toes, and some giving and taking away of instruments (for pacing concerns) hold the reins in long enough for a Fleet Foxes vocal bridge, but with just enough headphone bleed and off center downbeats across instruments to make us feel like we are in the apartment tracking the vocal ourselves.

The eponymous number "No No No" is second out of the gate, and it's initial transition sounds like a demo song on an old Casio that was clearly the inspiration for what's about to follow, as it is immediately chased off by its HiFi evolutionary ancestor, but cheats its way back in under the surface halfway through. This is really just a continuation of track 1, what with an almost identical layout instrumentally, merely dropping a half step and trading the piano's major 7th for a Rhodes's minor 7th, and vocal harmonies for a lush horn section at track's end. It is a proper table of contents for what's to come, never breaking stride or design and never lasting too long. And yet it's the one you want to hear more of, as the rising pentatonic trumpets swirl higher and glide on yet suddenly stop.  This is, after all, supposed to leave you wanting the rest of the record.

The following "August Holland" is a lazy Ringo on the drums and McCartney on the keys enough for anybody, and "Perth" is the gem of the dig, all reaching their destination in the closer 'So Allowed' with its '60's 6/8 waltz and small orchestral overture expanded by a subtle organ for a wider end that sounds much like where the record began.

In it's brevity, the plaintive yet efficient motion at work has a warmth and comfort not unlike all previous instantiations of Beirut, though again less a strange intensity.  The earnest mid-aughts brass and strings orchestrations that have always worked so well for Beirut are ever present, and provide a pleasant strength (see the swelling instrumental in "As Needed") though perhaps like the keys less adventurous than before. This adds to the feeling that you're in the room for a live session that could have been written and recorded in one weekend.

There's still that spirit of a DIY mixing treatment here also. As they are often called where the sausage is made, there are some 'artifacts' of imperfection present that a casual listener may not notice or find a bother, but is a hallmark and asset of many favorite recordings where the performance is the "it factor" to capture or at least feigned.  Beirut does whatever it likes, and knows how to give its songs room to breathe, and personally I enjoy the less quantized and mechanized.

Condon's vocals are a lilting yearn of a tenor, a gentle dialect at once Robin Pecknold and Julian Casablancas, though his a more slow motion croon. At times lyrics are difficult to discern more so than before, vanishing a bit more into the music more than usual. But this isn't crippling and may be a function of what's at work: ensuring repeated listens.

With less of the emotional stakes as fellow proto-hipster architects like Sufjan Stevens, this effort evokes more of the sonic clarity of an Andrew Bird aesthetic but perhaps composed and mixed with even more populist sensibilities.  The more cynical among us may be tempted to find No No No a bit distant and meek, as is often the case when artists venture into what are shallower sonic waters, and that may be true in comparison to previous weight. But more optimistic fans of Condon and co. will see this album moves with a purpose and does not meander, much like a recent (though darker) contemporary Star Wars by Wilco.  Each has its own confidence. 

Where it may fail in epiphany, it succeeds in consistency. It is a good meal, not an opus. While likely more a triumph for the mid-2000's vs the current decade, it knows what it wants. If it's weak, it doesn't care. Lovers of Beirut will likely enjoy the familiar formula, and newcomers should find it a gateway to their oeuvre. It does not pretend to be profound and is at least on the surface likely the more accessible the band has ever been; a good friend but not one you always have deep conversations with. A record of effortless, simple symmetry, where everything seems to happen only "as needed."

No No No is out now via 4AD.

Life's a (Dirty) Beach in Beirut's New "Gibraltar" Music Video

New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Beirut have followed up the peculiar and playful music video for their forthcoming record No No No's title track with "Gibraltar," a slow, percussive number showcasing vocals from frontman Zach Condon as gentle as lazy waves on the beach.

It seems fitting, then, that the new music video accompanying the single has the band ambling across that very landscape, though in this case it is littered with trash. Surreality and smoothness are not the only traits the two videos have in common, though, with this one also being the directing work of Brother Willis.

Watch "Gibraltar" below.

No No No can be yours this September 11th via 4AD.